Thursday, 18 April 2013

Dolly Shephard

Dolly Shephard, Edwardian parachutist and aerial performer, in her parachuting costume c.1910.  Despite a number of close calls, she survived an eight year career as Britain’s “Queen of the Air”.

The Goddess Wiki tells us -

Dolly Shepherd (1887-1983), born as Elizabeth Shepherd, was a parachutist and fairground entertainer in the Edwardian era.

Dolly Shepherd was born in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, England, as Elizabeth Shepherd. At the age of 16, she got a job as a waitress at the Alexandra Palace in North London so that she could see the composer John Philip Sousa. She overheard two men discussing the loss of a target for an act in which they shot an apple off a girl’s head; she volunteered on the spot.

In 1905 she ascended on a trapeze slung below a hot-air balloon to a height of two to four-thousand feet before descending on a parachute. On one occasion both the balloon and the parachute malfunctioned, and she found herself rising to 15,000 feet. At this height, both the cold and lack of oxygen were threatening to make her lose her grip and fall to her death. Fortunately, the balloon returned to earth before it was too late.   She was not so lucky in 1911 when she ascended with another girl.

The other girl’s parachute would not release, so she had to wrap her arms and legs around Dolly so that they could descend on the one parachute. The descent was of course much too fast, and Dolly was paralysed for several weeks. She nevertheless returned to her act and first flew again at Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

 Dolly later married, (married name Elizabeth Sedgwick), but still managed a flight with the Red Devils display team a few years before she died at the age of 96.

" When the 'Chute Went Up: Adventures of a Pioneer Lady Parachutist" by Dolly Shepherd and Molly Sedgwick (Nov 1996)


  1. She was a daring lady! I get sick at my stomach even thinking of doing what she did.

  2. Wow, interesting story. She was way ahead of her time for women and quite the daredevil as the sound of it.

  3. Holy acrophobia, Batman! What an intriguing woman! Being less than fond of heights and lacking a need for extra adrenaline, I can't imagine doing what she did! And if I could, I can guarantee you that the crash-landing and temporary paralysis would have put paid to that little hobby in a hurry. I'm not sure if bungee-jumping was around yet while Dolly was still alive, but she probably would have thought it was lame. Bet she'd have been impressed with Felix Baumgartner, though! Might have even beaten him to it if she'd been born a century later! :-)

  4. "Those were the days" ... That period really was an exciting time for pioneers of all kinds!

  5. What a daredevil! My life seems to be pretty boring, compared to hers! Thanks for visiting my blog earlier this seek, Scriptor:)

  6. What an exciting and adventurous life Dolly had! She sure had balls! A fantastic post and I'm sure the book on her life would be a great read! Thanks for giving us a snippet on a truly remarkable woman!

  7. Wow! This was a fascinating story.
    A lady daredevil is the best kind there is.
    Thanks for sharing...I learn so much stuff from your blog.
    I don't mind heights, I think I would have joined in on her act.

  8. She would have kicked butt on Survivor! What a gal...I admire her bravery and her willingness to do what she obviously felt driven to do. In that time of history, she was a ground breaker..or I should say a sky breaker! answer your question about the word "Crocks"..they are a brand of shoe that many in health care wear...they are rubber type material and they have holes around the soles for air circulation..unfortunately, they also allow fluid to seep in so they are a "no-no" in our department. Hope that clears it up!

  9. My kind of gal! And I LOVE her boots. She and I would have put a few pints away at the pub, for sure.

  10. That is a wonderful story - what a woman! That first outfit is also quite something.

  11. Fascinating story - thanks for sharing! I'd never even though of there beign parachutists from hot air balloons, let alone as entertainment acts.

  12. Hello! So glad to see this Blog Post as since finding out about Dolly Shepherd (Born: 19th November 1886 – Died: 21st September 1983) on the 15th August 2015, it has been as if I have taken on a mantel to get this Edwardian Lady Parachutist, remembered again in the public psyche esp. as Dolly is a Daughter of Potters Bar, formally Middlesex, now in Hertfordshire and was a resident of New Southgate now in Enfield. UK.
    What started for me as some light hearted research has now somewhat taken the forefront. When I found out that Dolly Shepherd through investigation, although known of to some, is not celebrated in Hertfordshire, seemly through the hands of time and the housing development of Potters Bar back in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, her existence has fluttered away. Not far from Potters Bar, there is a museum dedicated to the work of Geoffrey de Havilland who as stated in her book Dolly came into contact with due to her parachuting aeronaut displays and work as she was accepted and able to move freely amongst these early aviators, other such remembered names she met include Charles Rolls.
    In Enfield it was only until I started to make enquires about Dolly Shepherd I found out she was little remembered or not known about, although I was told she is on the Census for the area of New Southgate. Dolly is also in the Guinness World Records for her first mid air rescue. I recently booked a place and spent the day at the Research Room at the Imperial War Museum in London, listening to recordings of Dolly, talking about her Entertainment Parachutists life and work during the First World War. I have visited the Alexandra Palace where she performed her first and last parachuting accent and descent, hoping to glimpse the painted mural of her; unfortunately it is in an area not open to the general public on non event days.
    Personally I would like to see her name at least to be official noted, would it seem a step too far to say maybe a plaque on a wall, like a named room in an official Hertfordshire Building like a theatre, which would be rather fitting considering her entertainment career or a Council Office room or even a Library. Yes I know a bit far-fetched, but why not?

    Until then I say let US Come One & All and Celebrate: Dolly Shepherd, her life as an Edwardian Lady Parachutist and work as a Female Driver and Mechanic in the WW1 in France, from Hertfordshire, Enfield, Around the UK, and Around the World and back again. Thank You 4 Your Blog Post! :)


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